The chronicles of Ethiopian American life, outlooks and experiences.

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Raising your kid “Ethiopian” or “American”

When raising your child in America, should you instill Ethiopian values or American values? Is there any American way to raise a child and an Ethiopian way to raise a child? (insert any other immigrant group besides Ethiopian if applicable).

Ethiopians that immigrate to America from Ethiopia are forced to raise their children in an environment totally different from the one that they grew up in. Can you imagine, raising your child in a place where you have never lived before? Language barriers, cultural barriers, fitting into society are all barriers that the immigrant parent has to overcome. How does he or she navigate through these obstacles and raise a child at the same time? I can’t imagine. But people do it every single day. And amazingly the kids turn out just fine. But sometimes, they take a turn for the worst. Sometimes the concept of dualism ends up causing confusion rather than stability.  So where do you find the balance?

Ethiopian parents (or any immigrant parent at that) cannot attempt nor pretend to know the American culture perfethiopian american flagectly. I think creating a mutual understanding between the child and the parent will allow the child to see that the parent will remain in control. The issue is that kids figure out how to fit into the dominant culture (American culture) faster than the newly immigrated parents do.  Children are really like a  sponge and adjust much more quickly than the parents do.  Here’s where I think the balance comes in, Parents should simply raise their kid however they feel most comfortable.  Don’t try to conform into a culture that you know nothing about, because then you just look ridiculous and your child won’t respect you.  I think that the fear many have is that raising their child with Ethiopian norms will create an identity crisis.  Listen, trust me there are way more things going on in the world that will cause an identity crisis.  (I know that is coming out SOO HARSH sounding, but its the truth).  When you , the parent, show confidence in your own culture and parenting style, your child will respect you and you will remain in control.  Honestly, the same morals, values and rules of society apply around the world. So don’t worry, you won’t confuse your child.

You might be saying, how can you be so sure about these results. Honestly I’m not. I don’t have kids. I’ve never actually raised a child. But I did grow up in a big family. My parents did raise me using their dominant culture, Ethiopian culture. They made me respect their culture, not by force but by showing me that their culture was something to be proud of. They made me feel like it wasn’t anything different than any one else, in fact they made me feel like it was my own. I instinctively crated a sort of dualism in my mind.  On the other hand, (this next comment is solely based on my own social community observations) it is my observation that parents that try to assimilate to American culture, when it is something they actually have not adapted to, seem to lose control of their child.  I know I talked about issues relating to Identity Crisis in previous posts, but I don’t think being raised with a dualism in my culture is the sold reason for that identity crisis.  (And It wasn’t really a CRISIS per se, I survived!!)  I think that identity crisis is inevitable for anyone coming of age in this multi cultural multi ethnic society called America!

This is just my Ethiopian American Girl opinion: Balance who you are as an individual and when you show confidence in who you are, your child will respect that.  That has been my experience.  Please share your experience and opinions here!!


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Whose wedding is it anyway???

No I’m not planning my own wedding.  Growing up in an Ethiopian family I have had the grand opportunity to attend MANY Ethiopian weddings.  As I have gotten older I have had the opportunity to see many friends and family members get married.  Now as an adult I am getting the chance to celebrate and help prepare for weddings with family and friends.  It is an absolutely exciting time, and I can’t wait to one day plan for my own Ethiopian American Wedding.

Who should be the focal point when planning the wedding?  Is it what the parent’s want? Is it what society wants? Is it what the bride and groom want?   I recently heard someone say “Who cares what she thinks, as long as we are happy!”  PAUSE……UMmmmmmmmmmmm I would think the bride and groom’s opinion is of great value.  In fact I believe that if the bride and groom are unhappy with the wedding planning, the guest list, or whatever details there may be, there is no point in even having the wedding at all.  Can you imagine, the bride and groom looking around at their guests on their wedding day wondering….”who are these people?” “why are the flowers arranged like this?” “I really hate the food”.

Although this may seem absolutely ridiculous, I have discovered is that there are Ethiopian families and parents that actually believe that this statement is true and absolute.  In Ethiopia, and among most immigrant cultures, the wedding of a child is the greatest celebration and accomplishment for the family.  (the fact that getting Married, although it is a beautiful wonderful amazing thing, is the greatest accomplishment is an issue in and of itself, i mean I would have liked a gigantic large huge 30,000 dollar party for my law school graduation, but I digress).  The greatest most expensive accomplishment is the Wedding!! (SO I guess I will have my gigantic large overpriced party when I get married, I digress again).

Seriously, culturally and historically weddings are a communal celebration.  Everyone was invited, no expense was spared.  In Ethiopia the celebration lasted a whole week.  People celebrated every night of the week in preparation of the wedding and everyone helped put the event together.  In America, as an Ethiopian American, we don’t have the luxury of getting the whole community to participate in the celebrations.  The nuclear family becomes responsible for all the burdens associated with putting on such a large celebration.  However, our families still want to hold onto that portion of the culture and still invite the ENTIRE COMMUNITY.  A need for holding on to some form of the culture our parents grew up in, the cross over of Ethiopian and American creates conflict between parent and child.  It becomes a war when trying to strike that balance between cultural preservation and practicality in today’s American culture and economy.  The Ethiopian American struggle once again.

Here’s this Ethiopian American’s point of view.  The people getting married should be in control of what happens on their wedding day.  Yes, parents should also have a voice in some portions of the celebration, but parents need to take their child’s (now soon to be Mr. or Mrs.) desires into account.  What’s the point of having a celebration if the person you are celebrating isn’t enjoying it.

Share your thoughts here!   I would love to hear some personal stories from people who are actually going through this or have gone through this.  Your perspective is appreciated!!!


Tsom (The fasting Season)

Tsom, the tsomEthiopian Christian fasting season has officially started. Tsom is the fasting season before Easter. Christianity is a huge party of Ethiopian culture and fasting/ Tsom  is a normal part of the culture. So what do we do during the Tsom season? Essentially everyone who is fasting or participating in Tsom is adopting a Vegan lifestyle. No butter, meat, or any other animal product. There are so many substitutes for the staple foods in the Ethiopian diet that really fasting becomes easy when you are living in an area where there are a lot of Ethiopians or even when living in Ethiopia.
However, what about those people that live in an area where there isn’t easy access to vegan food, or the Ethiopian food substitutes. It becomes a lot more challenging to follow the vegan diet.

My only problem with Tsom, from a cultural stand point, is that it causes the individual to focus so much on the food that they eat and forget the reason for the season. Tsom is a time to prepare for the rising of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a time to prepare our mind, body and soul for Easter. I think it is important that people combine both the mind and body aspect with the spiritual aspect. Sometimes I find it harder to focus on that entire thing when you are trying to figure out what to eat during the Tsom season.

I have participated in Tsom in the past. I found it to be a challenge. I would say I was fairly successful in keeping with the dietary restrictions.  The most amazing part of Tsom is the unifying concept behind it.  All people, whether rich or poor have this one thing in common.  It brings people with political and cultural differences together.  We all end up eating the same things, there is no distinction between class or even political view.

Tsom requires a lot of dedication and focus.  What is your take?  Does Tsom unite or divide? Does it really allow people to focus on preparing for Easter?  Share your thoughts here and let’s keep the conversation going!


Understanding your rights

Imagine yourself in a foreign land, you don’t understand the language, you don’t understand the culture and you don’t know anyone else that shares a similar experience as you. You try to fit in as much as you can with no success. You try to navigate your way through education, employment, housing, and legal issues. You are getting by, but most of the time you have absolutely no idea what is going on.

So many people in the United States share this experience. Not just Ethiopians. Many immigrants as a whole. I have come face to face with so many people who become intimidated by the court systems in this country. I don’t blame them. It is not only intimidating to someone who is from a foreign country, it is intimidating even for those of us who have grown up here.

As an attorney, one of my biggest concerns is that so many people don’t know their rights. People are automatically intimidated by the legal system, and assume that an accusation is a finding of guilt. However that is not at all the case. I can only help those I know, but how do we help those throughout the country. I find that people are often frightened by the possibilities of punishment by a harsh legal system. They are not to be blamed for these fears. It is true, what is one to do, if no one around you knows what you are saying. How do you preserve your rights? How do you say I want an attorney when you don’t know how to say that? I believe it is the obligation of the police, those who have first contact in many cases, to try to explain things in a culturally sensitive manner so that people are not automatically frightened and intimidated. We must avoid admissions of guilt when people aren’t really guilty.  This can be done by sharing knowledge and remembering that We ALL HAVE RIGHTS!

It is my desire and hope that minority communities, especially the Ethiopian Community as a whole can begin to look past the various barriers that stand in the way of unity.  Overcoming that obstacle will lead to a community that is large in number, united and moves forward to tackle these issues.  Different people know different pieces of information, but if we don’t share that information how can we possibly move forward and grow.  While I advocate being helpful to one another and supportive and sharing knowledge to advance our community I must also say that those that are seeking assistance, advice or help must also take some responsibility.  You have to use the information you are given for it to be useful.  You have to ask for help to receive it.  And you have to remember that everything has a time and a place and when asking someone to help you it should be on that person’s terms , not on yours.


Being yourself

Many people spend most of their time trying to fit in to society.  I have noticed my fellow Ethiopians comparing themselves to one another and competing.  Constantly trying to see what so and so is driving, where they are working, what their kid is doing.  I have noticed some people refer to others by their career path, rather than their name or other identifying features.  Why is that?  What is the true measure of an individual.

My philosophy is this- BE YOURSELF.  You can’t look outside of yourself to determine who you are, or where you fit into society.  The reality is that you have to spend time with yourself to figure that part out.  I think that’s the part many people within the Ethiopian American community struggle with.  We are all so busy running between social functions that we forget to take that time out to spend with ourselves.  That is what hurts our community.  We need to actually spend time determining what our goals are as individuals, rather than figuring out what it is that everyone else is doing or wants to do.  It is then that we will all reach our full capacity.

Being yourself is the ultimate form of self satisfaction.  You can be at ease, free and genuinely happy.

What are your thoughts on how Ethiopian Americans navigate their way through society? Do people always put up fronts, or is everyone really keeping it real?  Share your story!


Empowering our girls.

I would like to start today’s post with the following quote:

“We teach girls to shrink themselves,
to make themselves smaller.
We say to girls,
‘You can have ambition,
but not too much.
You should aim to be successful,
but not too successful.
Otherwise you will threaten the man.’
Because I am female,
I am expected to aspire to marriage.
I am expected to make my life choices
always keeping in mind that
marriage is the most important.
Now marriage can be a source of
joy and love and mutual support.
But why do we teach to aspire to marriage
and we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to see each other as competitors –
not for jobs or for accomplishments,
which I think can be a good thing,
but for the attention of men.
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
in the way that boys are.
Feminist: the person who believes in the social,
political and economic equality of the sexes.”
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I think this quote symbolizes what many women, especially Ethiopian women may face and go through in their lives. In Ethiopia, a woman has attained the ultimate success once she has married, had children and starts her own family. Unfortunately this translates into a circumstance where Ethiopian women come to America and teach their daughters that this is the ultimate success. I am not saying that this is what happens in all families. Many families like my own teach their daughters to have ambition, pursue an education and to become powerful women. However, upon graduation day the family begins to ask: “When are you getting married” “When will you make me a grandparent”. Now many of us do in fact want to get married and live that fairy tale dream. However that fairy tale should not come at the expense of reaching a young woman’s goals and aspirations. The man you marry and live out your life with should be someone that you can live out your life goals, without sacrificing your dreams. That person should be your support system and you should be his. It should not be at a cost of losing who you are as an individual. We should always teach our daughters to feel empowered. A man may look good on paper, however he may be pure evil on the inside. Simply put, families should focus on teaching their daughters to feel empowered, to be enough with or without a man. See, when you seek the attention of a man, you will NOT get him. When you focus on YOU, the right HIM will find you. Seek out your goals, live out your life, and when the time is right the right man will come along. Settling should never be an option.

All too often, women settle for a man that gives them attention. A man that buys her things, takes her places and impresses her family. That should not be the case. The value of individual should be what draws you to a man. Material things and a flashy lifestyle are things that could go away tomorrow. You should consider who the person is on the inside. That is what really counts.

I hope that we as a community can change our tone and conversation and recognize that our women are our biggest asset and should be treated with the ultimate respect.


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